What is Pneumonia?

You can prevent your chinchilla from becoming sick with pneumonia by providing her with a good home environment. Prevent crowding in the cage, keep humidity levels and room temperature low, and make sure the area around the cage is well-ventilated. If you have other chinchillas, remove them from the cage being used by your sick chinchilla so they are less likely to become sick.

Your chinchilla can become sick from pneumonia after developing an upper respiratory infection (URI). If the illness is caused by a virus, all your vet can do is treat her symptoms, while bacterial pneumonia requires antibiotic treatment. In every case of pneumonia or suspected pneumonia, bacterial or viral, be sure to get your pet to the vet’s office as quickly as possible.

Symptoms of chinchilla pneumonia are similar to those of humans. Your chinchilla can worsen and die quickly, so as soon as you suspect something is wrong, seek expert care.

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Symptoms of Pneumonia in Chinchillas

First, you’ll notice that your chinchilla has cold symptoms. If her condition progresses to pneumonia, you’ll notice these signs:

  • Runny nose (like a cold)
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing
  • Crackling sounds as she tries to breathe
  • Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
  • Hoarseness
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Teeth chatter
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Discharge from eyes and nostrils
  • Watery eyes
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Mood changes

Causes of Pneumonia in Chinchillas

Pneumonia can be caused by a viral, fungal, or bacterial illness. Several factors may lead to your chinchilla developing pneumonia:

  • Exposure to pathogens
  • Stress (to the chinchilla and within the household)
  • High humidity
  • Cold temperatures and wet fur in combination
  • Cage overcrowding
  • Lack of ventilation around the cage
  • Spraying irritating perfumes or air fresheners near the cage

A chinchilla’s respiratory system is highly sensitive. Avoid spraying any foreign scents near their cage. Don’t freshen the room with the cage by spraying air freshener there. To prevent odors, keep the cage as clean as possible.

Diagnosis of Pneumonia in Chinchillas

You may suspect early on that your chinchilla is sick with more than “just a cold.” Even with a cold, you should take her to the vet so she can receive quick veterinary care. Your pet needs early intervention for a URI to prevent pneumonia.

At the office, your vet will observe your chinchilla’s behaviors and carry out a full physical exam. The vet will need to sedate your pet before X-raying her. If he sees white spots on her lungs, he’ll diagnose pneumonia.

Once he determines whether your pet’s pneumonia is viral or bacterial, he’ll know how he should treat your chinchilla. With viral pneumonia, antibiotics won’t work and, in fact, aren’t recommended. Bacterial pneumonia should always be treated with antibiotics.

Treatment of Pneumonia in Chinchillas

With bacterial pneumonia, the vet will prescribe sulfamethoxanol and trimethoprim, or Bactrim, which is given twice a day for fourteen days. If necessary, a second antibiotic (Baytril) may be given to your pet. Your chinchilla will also take a diuretic medication which helps to drain excess fluid that might be surrounding and compressing the heart and lungs. Pneumonia can be a painful illness, so your chinchilla may also receive terbutaline to relieve her pain. This medication is a beta agonist, so it may also help your pet breathe more easily.

If your chinchilla is having a difficult time breathing, she’ll be placed into an oxygen chamber to make it easier for her to obtain oxygen. She may also receive a small amount of albuterol, a quick-acting bronchodilator used by asthmatics. This helps open up her airways so she can draw in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide more easily.

For a case of viral pneumonia, your vet will prescribe many of the same treatments for your chinchilla. The only medication she won’t receive while hospitalized will be antibiotics. Here, the only thing the vet and you will be able to do is treat her symptoms and give supportive care so she gets well.

Recovery of Pneumonia in Chinchillas

The sooner you take your sick chinchilla for veterinary care, the better her chance of recovery. If you wait until she is in obvious respiratory distress, the pneumonia has weakened her considerably. It will be difficult for your vet to administer treatment and help your chinchilla to recover.

Once your pet is receiving care, she won’t begin to show improvement for several days. Her respiratory distress will continue until the breathing treatments, oxygen and antibiotics have had a chance to help her airways open and begin killing off the bacteria making her so sick.

The veterinary staff will offer supportive treatments such as recovery food and assisted feeding to your chinchilla. Keeping her nourished and hydrated is a vital step in her recovery. If she’s taking antibiotics, the natural bacterial flora in her gut will be wiped away, potentially causing diarrhea. To keep this from becoming too severe, your pet may be given yogurt. Laxatone, a medication that helps to keep your chinchilla’s GI tract moving and working normally, will be prescribed. She may also be given an electrolyte drink such as Pedialyte.

Once you bring your chinchilla home, she may still not have very much of an appetite. If this is the case, you’ll need to continue giving her recovery food and assisted feedings, and make sure she completes her prescribed course of antibiotics.

Once your pet has had pneumonia, it’s a good idea to closely monitor her condition every time she develops an upper respiratory infection. At home, make sure her living environment is cool, clean and dry enough for her good health.